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Economic Opportunities

The cost of ecological restoration projects in ponderosa pine forests averages $900 per acre. Some operations can cost as much as $1500 per acre. With millions of acres in need of restoration, efforts are underway to find economic uses for the small diameter trees targeted for thinning. Economic utilization of small diameter timber offsets at least part of the cost of restoration.

Commercial logging depends upon the harvest of large trees and is unable to utilize small diameter timber profitably. Timber companies, typically, only accept contracts to conduct fire prevention forest thinning projects in exchange for harvesting enough large diameter trees to turn a profit. Most ecological restoration projects, however, occur in areas where cutting profitable quantities of large trees is contrary to scientifically established restoration parameters.

Research indicates that many locally based enterprises can profit from the over-abundance of small diameter trees. Markets already exist for firewood, posts and poles, shavings for animal bedding, mine props, utility poles, and oriented strandboard (OSB).

Classroom for traditional studies at Leupp Public School. Constructed by Indigenous Community Enterprises using small diameter timbers.
Classroom for traditional studies at Leupp Public School. Constructed by Indigenous Community Enterprises using small diameter timbers.

New product developments offer opportunities as well. Roundwood for structural applications, wood pellets, biomass energy, wood pulp, and composite products show promise for opening new markets.

Indigenous Community Enterprises serves as one the best examples of matching problems with needs in the marketplace. I.C.E. uses small diameter timbers to build affordable traditional Navajo homes and ceremonial buildings called hogans. A small scale milling operation makes uniform log shapes to make hogan kits that assemble easily. I.C.E. creates badly needed jobs and helps alleviate the shortage of affordable housing on the Navajo Reservation.



Forest Products Laboratory. U.S. Forest service. 4/3/03. Research studies on a variety of economic uses for small diameter timber.

Indigenous Community Enterprises. 4/3/03.
Website for I.C.E. described in text above.

Kenworthy, Tom. 2003. Western states troubled by timber. 4/3/03. News article outlining some of the efforts to find economic uses for small diameter timber.

Lynch, Dennis L. and Mackes, Kurt H. 2002. Opportunities for making wood products from small diameter trees in Colorado. Res. Pap. RMRS-RP-37. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 11 p. 4/3/03. Report outlining possible products that can be manufactured from the small-diameter resources in Colorado and throughout the American Southwest.

Colorado State University. CSU/CSFS Wood Utilization and Marketing Effort. 4/3/03. This web site provides research studies on a variety of economic uses for small diameter timber.

Other Resources

Bishop, James Jr. 2002. Closing the Loop: From Trees to Hogans. 4/3/03. News story describing the activities of Indigenous Community Enterprises.

Blue Mountains Natural Resources Institute. 4/3/03. Presentations made at the SmallWood ’98 conference in Lewiston, Idaho.

Byrd and Block Communications. 2000. More Information on “Small Diameter Trees.” 4/3/03. “Earth and Sky” radio interview with Marlin Johnson gives a simple overview of the role of small diameter trees in forest economics.

Four Corners Sustainable Forests Partnership. 2002. 2002 Demonstration Projects. 4/3/03. Outlines grants made to a variety of community forestry projects, many aimed at small timber utilization.

U.S. Forest Service. 2002. Small Diameter Utilization Program. 4/3/03. Describes the Forest Service’s programs to develop uses and markets for small diameter timber.

Zachritz, Walter H., Luz-Elena Mimbela, and Terry Gilmore. 2000. Executive Summary. 4/3/03. Final report on a feasibility study for a biomass power plant cofired with natural gas for the village of Angel Fire, New Mexico.

Last edited June 25, 2003

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NAU's Program in Community, Culture and Environment Northern Arizona University